Lessons to be learned for the Lib Dems

Thursday's mixed bag of election results for the Lib Dems really should make the party ponder its future and the way it operates at all levels. Here is my analysis of where we go wrong.

1) Clinging on to power - The Lib Dems tend to be obsessed with clinging on to power even when they do not have the influence to actually be in control. Let me give you an example. In Norwich three years ago, the Lib Dems decided to run a minority administration. As a result, they were in charge, but actually had no power to influence the decisions they were bringing in. As a result, combined Green and Labour council votes were scuppering Lib Dem plans and instead they council introduced watered down and ill thought out rubbish which the Lib Dems were forced to take responsibility for. That explains part of the reason for the Lib Dem decline in Norwich.

Similar things to this happened in North Somerset, where the Tories have been for most of the council term, part of an all party administration, taking and making decisions and taking their allowances too. Then recently, the Tories withdraw, claim to be in opposition and then claim the council is doing it all wrong. So what do the Lib Dems do ? They battle on and try to do their best when in truth, they should decided that without the power, what is the point of being in charge.

Looking at results in Luton I think it shows that minority administrations lack the power to make real change and then get blamed for not delivering change.

2) Guilt by association - Similar parallels to the previous argument about clinging to power could be given in Scotland. However the Lib Dems are taking the blame for working with Labour. The "guilt by association" with Labour has seen the Lib Dems lose out in Scotland, but this was a factor in other council areas where the Lib Dems have worked with Labour (North Somerset comes to mind again). We've got to learn that if Labour are that unpopular in some areas, we need to keep them at arms length.

3) Uninspiring leadership - I supported Ming Campbell when he stood for leadership, so I am in part to blame. however, I supported him more out of a desire to stop Chris Huhne because Huhne as leader would, in my opinion, stop Nick Clegg getting the leadership in two years time. I hoped Ming would hold the fort, keep things ticking over and would be the ideal stop-gap, a Michael Howard of sorts. However, this hasn't happened.

There is no doubting Ming's qualities. His knowledge of foreign affairs, his experience and his drive are clear. However, he does not seem to engage with voters. He lack that human touch that Charles or Paddy had and that is costing the Lib Dems. I've met Ming, I know he is a funny witty man who can really inspire, but the electorate don't seem to be getting this from him.

I doubt Ming would step down, but I'd love to see Nick Clegg in as soon as possible. Until then, I know that Ming is not a liability, it's just that the Lib Dems are lacking that asset that we need as leader.


Anonymous said...

I am still trying to understand how in South Norfolk the Lib Dems were routed, no massicred, 20 of them, and how in North Norfolk no Lib Dem casaulties.

I do not put it down to the Cameron Diss affect or the successful Fuller doorstep and electronic campaign.

My feelings are that there was somthing pretty rotten going on in the Lib Dem Cabinet, with infighting and poor decision making with housing, budgets, staff payoffs and lack of fly tipping enforcement. Who are the "Gang of four" I ask? The South Norfolk electorate picked up on this and said enough is enough, albeit Viv Clifford Jackson crying foul play, and sow grapes to the last. Lib Dem campaigning was fairly toothless, lacking vision on and tough policies on eco-crime. The only LibDems that got it right where the 4 Costessey councillors who were rewarded with massive margins because of their principled stand for their communities against the incinerators. I would like to know more why the top Lib Dems and 20 councillors went into electoral meltdown.

Anonymous said...

Clegg would scare us Conservatives but would be more likely to support us in the event of a hung parliament. But, realistically, I don't think you'll change leader until after polling day (of the GE).

Three questions, Nich, if I may:

1. Why do you think that on average Lib Dem councils are very short lived?

2. What's your view on the spin your colleagues are putting on these dreadful results?

3. If you went to vote and only saw one Conservative and one Labour on the ballot paper, what would you do?



Nich Starling said...

Justin, I think all parties suffer from "shrt lived" councils. Look how Torbay has swung in every election from Tory to Lib Dem then back again. What about Eastbourne Tories ? What about Richmond Upon Thames ? It's not just a Lib Dem thing.

As for Mr Anonymous, you are right not to believe the spin that "John Fuller's e-campaign won it". I have family in South Norfolk and they knew nothing about it. To be fair, it only took a small swing to kick the Lib Dems out. last time they won, they wond many seats by less than 100 votes. A decent campaign can always swing 100 votes and that is what happened. Very few Lib Dems were absolutely routed, instead of winning by 50 votes, lots of them lost by 50.

Why ? The Tory campaign was negative and personal (I thought Cameron disapproved of this sort of campaigning yet he endorses it in South Norfolk ???)

Also, the Lib Dems had run out of ideas and the Lib Dem campaigning had not developed and moved on.

Why was North Norfolk succesful (and just 14 more votes would have seen the Lib Dems +2), brilliant agent, excellent MP, more than 5 leaflets to every house each year (which is why in non taget wards the Lib Dem were picking up nearly 40% of the vote), totaly inept Tory campaigning (very personal)m which te Lib Dems were able to highlight as being personal, and the lectorate don't like it.

As for Justin's final question, it would depend on the candidate. In my area, my ward where I live, both Tory Councillors attendance at council is less than 40%m they delivered one awful leaflet in March, and they were still elected. Do they deserve anyones vote ?

Anonymous said...

It is worth noting that in Costessey the Lib Dems "principled stand" was a gainst a Tory decision to site an incinerator there.

Maltheus said...

It's a shame that Ming isn't getting through. He was always going to be a safe pair of hands whilst the party regrouped after the Kennedy coup. Always seems a nice enough guy to me, not inspiring but hardworking, intelligent and masters a brief easily enough.

I would get rid of Ming now, it doesn't seem a very lib Dem thing to do but you are just coasting at the moment. If you oust him now then you can get in a Clegg or a Laws and start to revive and grow further.

Tristan said...

Ming has been making some important changes internally. He may not be a particularly dynamic leader, but he's trying to shore up the base and build a solid platform to make further advances.

I was never particularly convinced by Huhne, I think he's got a lot of talent and helped push a reasonably sensible environmental policy which has continued. Hughes was the other option and personally I think he'd have been disastrous (then again, I don't like him - apart from his stand on disestablishment)

Anonymous said...

Must agree with Maltheus, sadly the Norwich Lib Dems have the same problem with Hereward Cooke. Both are nice persons but are not leaders.

Anonymous said...

Norfolk Blogger..former Cllr Phil Waltham is a decent and well respected bloke. I would like to know why he was denied access to Environmental docs by the council, having to access them via FoI, even thought two other Cabinet members acheived access. Phil Waltham stepped down from the post and didn't seek reelection. Word is he felt messed around, undermined and concluded he didn't need the hassle, after, with Costessey LibDem councillors protecting communities from an incinerator, a job his predecessor from Cringleford totally neglected.

IMHO, the Conservative campaign was neither particularly negative or personal, the Lib Dem Leadership slit their own political throats, with arrogance and infighting, without knowing it.

South Norfolk will be a poorly and less integral place without Philip Waltham; the public decided 20 dead wood Lib Dem scalps were required, and many were by decisive and large majorities.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the issue is as much about consistent and well-communicated campaign techniques. As a party we look a little predictable these days, and not just a little stale. Perhaps we should put some thought into how we campaign in new and different ways, and more pertinently recruit some new ideas in this way.